Forest Cove’s downward spiral could be coming to an end — one that marks the beginning of the dilapidated, decades-old Section 8 apartment complex’s long-awaited resurrection.
Global Ministries Foundation (GMF), which owns the nearly 400-unit community on Atlanta’s Southside, intends to finalize the sale of the property to Millennia Housing Management (MHM) next week, GMF CEO Richard Hamlet told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview.
Today, Forest Cove is what residents have called “uninhabitable” — boarded-up, littered with trash and infested with rodents, bugs and mold. MHM, which has managed the property since 2017, plans to restore the affordable housing development to something tenants can be proud of.
Why the circa-1970s complex has been allowed to fall into such severe disrepair, though, is a matter of some contention. It was already falling apart when GMF purchased it in early 2014, Hamlet said, and the company spent more than $3 million restoring the property during the years before MHM joined the operation.
But that $3 million only made a dent in the problem, Hamlet added, and so GMF appealed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for help with proper renovations.
“This thing doesn’t need a Band-Aid; we need surgery,” Hamlet said of Forest Cove. “To do that, HUD needs to do rent increases and tax credits, and they didn’t want to do that.” He said he “never got a straight answer” about why HUD officials turned him down, and a HUD spokesman did not address Atlanta Civic Circle’s questions about the matter.
In recent years, too, MHM has been on the hook for keeping the place up to code — or bringing it back up to code, rather — Hamlet said. About four years ago, when MHM began managing the property with the intention of buying and rehabbing it, Forest Cove was 95 percent occupied, he added. Today, it’s only about 60 percent leased-up, according to Michael Lucas, head of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, a nonprofit that he said has represented “hundreds of tenants in litigation against Global Ministries and Millennia,” fighting eviction proceedings and pushing for necessary repairs.
MHM representatives did not address Atlanta Civic Circle’s questions regarding who’s responsible for letting the complex wither away in recent years, although the damage is bad enough to warrant a $100,000-per-unit overhaul, according to the company’s plans. With 396 apartments, that’s almost a $40 million investment just to make the place livable.
But why has it taken so long for this sale to finalize? That’s in part because MHM is in the process of buying GMF’s entire portfolio of Section 8 properties, which includes nearly 5,000 units nationwide. Forest Cove is one of the last pieces of the colossal puzzle.
“Forest Cove in itself, as a large 50-year-old property with the surgery needed for rehabilitation and modernization, would have been a heavy task for a buyer to purchase it on a stand-alone basis, with all the new government subsidy and tax credit subsidy needed to accomplish the end goal,” Hamlet said. “To have Forest Cove included in a 62-property, $250 million portfolio sale with some other older, similar property profiles, the length of time to close the entire portfolio is multiples of time frames.”
“I am doubtful any buyer could have moved much quicker, to be fair,” he added.
Once the deal is done, its new owner will launch a relocation and retention operation with the tenants who have called Forest Cove home, MHM spokeswoman Valerie Jerome told Atlanta Civic Circle.
“Prior to moving, Millennia plans to arrange for a relocation specialist to meet with each head of household to discuss individual needs and housing options,” she said. Then, HUD, via the agency’s Section 8 Subsidy Pass-Through program, will pay for the tenants to be settled elsewhere while construction crews reimagine the complex, she said. “The plan calls for the relocation specialist to maintain contact with each family throughout the process, focusing on relocation, retention and return.”
MHM will also partner with nonprofits and other organizations “to provide services during the relocation process, especially those related to education and transportation,” Jerome added.
In an ideal world, the children of Forest Cove will be able to keep attending the same schools, and the parents will be able to get to work. Lucas, AVLF’s executive director, told Atlanta Civic Circle that his organization will see to it that that happens, and “to make sure every tenant that wants to return can do so.” He continued, “We plan on staffing up as much as we can to watch the relocation really closely.”
Jerome also said that various households’ return to Forest Cove will be staggered as the phased construction allows.
The timeline of Forest Cove’s revamp is yet unclear, although the renovations are also expected to deliver new communal space for events and resident services, upgrades to the playground and a security system.
Soon to hand over the keys, Hamlet said, “I can’t wait to go back there and see it all.”
(Header image, via Millennia Housing Management: A rendering of what Forest Cove could look like after the planned overhaul.)